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Recital
ECLECTIC PIANISM IN SPRING LAKE VILLAGE VIRTUAL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
During the pandemic The Santa Rosa Symphony’s virtual concerts received their due in performance praise, but another series, Spring Lake Village, more quietly presented monthly virtual concerts to a select local audience. May 5 saw the latest event, produced by impresario Robert Hayden, and feature...
Symphony
SONIC CONTRASTS HIGHLIGHT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SPRING PROGRAM
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 25, 2021
In a curious mixture of compositions, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s penultimate virtual concert of the season April 25 unfolded in ways both highly satisfying and a bit perplexing. Directed by resident Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong, the event followed a familiar format – several contemporary wor...
Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three...
Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
SYMPHONY REVIEW

Brigitte Armenier Receiving Applause May 6 (Andreas Knuttel photo)

SONIC SPLENDOR IN FINAL APSC CONCERT AT WELLS

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 6, 2012

May 6 marked the American Philharmonic Sonoma County's final concert in the Wells Fargo Center, and with the Santa Rosa Symphony leaving Wells after mid-May, orchestra events may soon be a dim memory in the venerable hall.

An audience of 950 sat through the usual bevy of announcements and raffle prizes, along with candidate conductor Norman Gamboa's slightly inane descriptions of what the concert's two compositions meant to him. But it was that kind of event, and the crowd was heavily sprinkled with young people, much to the delight of APSC's board.

But what of the music? Saint Saëns' monumental "Organ" Symphony occupied the second half of the program, with James Warren playing the minimal organ part. The opening Adagio began with a whisper, the string sections matching perfectly with richly hued solos from clarinetist Jeff Chan and flutist Emily eynolds. Though Mr. Gamboa gave little subtlety to the long Saint Saëns phrases, he sculpted the sensuous arching theme in the second movement deftly. And what a theme it is, reminiscent of the closing first movement melody in the same composer's C Minor Piano Concerto. The slow tempos favored by the conductor throughout the afternoon were here delicately precise.

The Allen organ, a massive electric instrument driving a line of speakers behind the brass section, sounded made for the hall, but its sparing use made one want to hear it more often. Mr. Warren, who apparently supplied the instrument, was a capable performer, but he sat by for long stretches without much to do.

The Allegro Moderato third movement was played with bounce but lacked clarity. Perhaps playing Presto sections without overlapping balances and phrase cutoffs is beyond the Philharmonic. In any event, the effect was scrappy. In the finale, the energy of the music carried the day, beginning with a wonderfully loud 32-foot organ stop and generating the requisite menace as the movement grew. There was outstanding playing by oboist Chris Krive and clarinetist Chan, both leading to an abbreviated fugue that began in the strings.

Mr. Gamboa was clearly in his element towards the end the symphony. The APSC created a tsunami of sound that drew the audience to its feet after the last chord. The conductor then recognized individual sections and players while enjoying the ovation.

Beethoven's E Flat Concerto, Op. 73, opened the program, with local pianist Brigitte Armenier playing the demanding solo part. Here again the conductor chose spacious tempos, which seemed to suit the pianist. Ms. Armenier lacks a big technique and a heroic approach to this most heroic of pieces; but what she brought to the work was a compelling intensity without extraneous details. She is an artist focused on the job at hand without sartorial puffery or platform theatrics. Her scale playing was lucid, and she offered brilliant right-hand trills.

The opening Allegro went smoothly with just a hint of problems to come in connecting the piano part with the orchestra. Several of the ascending runs began with the tuttis still ringing in the hall. Perhaps this was Ms. Armenier's choice, as she didn’t begin the runs with dampers raised to mimic the ambient sound, a method used in long-past "Emperor" performances.

The following B Major middle movement was gorgeous, with Nick Xenelis providing beguiling clarinet solos and Ms. Armenier's tone the most lustrous of the day, even in the top register. The effect was captivating. Moving directly into the Rondo finale, Mr. Gamboa had difficulty keeping the APSC in sync with the pianist, the latter gamely jumping ahead when possible. Technically Ms. Armenier was in good form, her right-hand skips on target. In a surprising deviation from contemporary practice, she doubled the left-hand B Flats at bars 229 and 237 to resounding effect.

To have a local and largely unsung pianist play this masterwork on an auspicious occasion with Mr. Gamboa's committed if wayward direction was a fitting end for the Wells Fargo chapter of APSC's 13 years of unconventional music making.

Next season the APSC will revisit the format of two-set programs, four in all, at the refurbished 900-seat Santa Rosa High School Auditorium. This hall was once the home of the Santa Rosa Symphony under Corrick Brown. What remains to be seen is if the APSC can transfer the palpable glamor of the "people's orchestra" into the small space on Mendocino Avenue.